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Covering everything from the major news of the week and burning social issues, to expat living and la vida local, EL PAÍS’ team of English-language bloggers offers its opinions, observations and analysis on Spain and beyond.

A Taste of Honey

Por: | 13 de abril de 2016

Firabril El Perello honey Credit Gonzalvo Imatge
Honey: 'nature, health and wellbeing' Photo: Gonzalvo Imatge

‘Honey is like wine,’ says Rafael Muria Martí, president of honey company Mel Muria. ‘You need to let it rest in your mouth for a while and savour the flavours on your tongue – the sweet, the sour, the bitter…’

On the table in front of Rafael sits a smart matt black box containing four small jars of softly glowing honey. This is his company’s luxury ‘artMuria’ collection – artisan honeys derived from rosemary, orange blossom, the mountains and the forest, with a higher pollen content and more maturity than ordinary honey – on sale in a select group of shops across Europe, including London’s famous Harrods.

The artMuria collection
The artMuria collection of luxury honey

Rafael is the fifth generation of his family to work in the honey business. In the early 19th century his great-great grandfather Rafael Muria Queralt began beekeeping in the town of El Perelló. Succeeding generations followed the same path. Other families in the area took up beekeeping too and now El Perelló, a town that sits between the sea and the mountains near the Ebro Delta, is known as ‘lo poble de la mel’ producing, it claims, 60 per cent of the honey in Catalunya.‘This,’ says Rafael, pointing to the box of honeys with their different amber and ochre hues, ‘is better than a present of sweets. This is nature, health and wellbeing.’

El Perelló showcases its honey (along with olive oil and other local products) every year at Firabril, a fair which will be held this year on 16 and 17 April and which is expected to attract around 3,000 visitors and 200 exhibitors. El Perelló’s several big honey producers will compete with others from outside the area in what is boasted to be the oldest honey competition in the country.

Visitors can sample as many different honeys as they can stomach along with an enormous range of other honey-related foods: bunyols amb mel (little fried doughnuts with honey), coc amb mel (honey cake with olive oil and almonds), olimelada (a surprisingly delicious mixture of honey, olive oil, herbs and almonds) and many more. There will also be royal jelly, propolis, beeswax candles and natural cosmetics. And if all that isn’t enough, visitors can enter the draw to win their own weight in honey.

El Perelló’s bees are kept extraordinarily busy. Their year starts in early spring when the blue flowers of the rosemary are among the first blooms on the hills. Then the thyme and lavender need the bees’ attention. As the weather warms, El Perelló’s bigger producers put their hives on lorries and follow the flowers, driving south overnight to Castellón for the orange blossom, or, in the heat of mid-summer, north to the base of the Pyrenees to make the most of the mountain flowers. At the end of the year the bees come back home where the heathers on the hills surrounding the town flower longer into the winter than those in other areas.

Previous generations of the Muria family beekeeping
Beekeeping has a long tradition in El Perelló


While El Perelló’s climate and situation are important contributors to its success, the support of the town hall and the large number of honey producers creating a shared sense of tradition are equally significant. The role of the beekeeper is celebrated as an art. Simón Albiol Llaó, a Perellonenc who started his own independent beekeeping business six years ago, says it’s his passion. ‘Bees are magical,’ he says, ‘everything they do during their short life is marvellous. Beekeeping is addictive.’

El Perelló’s honey companies’ ambitions have really put the town on the map – you can find El Perelló honey not only in Harrods in London, but also in Switzerland, Belgium and even Japan (one of the town’s honey companies, Apícola Rossend Margalef, even has a section of its website in Japanese).

Rafael of Mel Muria typifies this forward-looking approach. His company recently persuaded the town’s bars and restaurants to hold their first ‘Ruta de la tapa amb mel’ where customers were offered a tapa featuring honey along with a drink for a few euros. After some initial reluctance (Rafael complains that some people think that honey is only for desserts or when you’ve got a cold), the chefs got to work and devised a selection of imaginative dishes including a mini pizza with aubergine, goat’s cheese and honey, a ‘xupito’ (shot) of romesco sauce with prawn and honey, and a pastry with bacon and honey-caramelised raisins.

Rafael says that the artMuria collection of honey is a tribute to his family before him, but at the same time he emphasises the future. The sixth generation – Rafael’s nephew – is now working at Mel Muria. ‘We are an innovative company,’ he says. ‘We are always creating something new.’

For the smallest producers too it’s a good business to be in. As Simón comments: ‘My work gives me strength and hope. I love the nature and the fresh mountain air. For me, this is the best job in the world.’

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Authors (Bloggers)

Chris Finnigan is a freelance journalist based in Barcelona. He writes for Barcelona Metropolitan and is a book reviewer and reader for The Barcelona Review. He is a graduate of the London School of Economics. You can find him on twitter @chrisjfinnigan

Ben Cardew is a freelance journalist, translator and teacher, now resident in Barcelona after growing up gracefully in Scotland via Norwich. He writes for The Guardian, the NME and The Quietus, among others, on everything from music to digital media. You can find him on Twitter @bencardew

Fiona Flores Watson is a freelance journalist, guide and translator who has lived in Seville since 2003, and has been a writer and editor for more than 20 years. She writes for the Guardian, Telegraph and Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Originally from Essex, Fiona is also Consulting Editor of Andalucia.com and has her own blog, Scribbler in Seville. She has been contributing to Trans-Iberian since 2014 and tweets at @Seville_Writer

Jeff Brodsky is a freelance writer. He arrived in Barcelona in 2013 via an admittedly indirect route, living in Chicago, Arizona, Seville, Amsterdam, North Carolina and Madrid. Despite not having stepped foot in Seville for over five years, he still speaks Spanish with an Andalusian accent. Jeff’s writing has been published in newspapers and magazines in America and Europe.

Koren Helbig is an Australian freelance journalist and blogger enjoying a life of near-eternal sunshine in Alicante. She writes for publications in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom, focusing on stories exploring smart and positive approaches to social issues. She hangs out on Twitter at @KorenHelbig and keeps a selection of her favourite stories at korenhelbig.com.

Julie Pybus lives in a small off-grid house on a hillside in Catalunya. She usually focuses on helping charities and social enterprises with their publications and websites, but has also written for The Guardian, Country Living and The Observer. Julie launched and runs a hyperlocal website which endeavors to increase understanding between the different nationalities in her area perelloplus.com. @JuliePybus

Paul Louis Archer is a freelance photographer, multimedia storyteller and artist educator. A cross-disciplinary worker, who endeavors to encompass the mediums of photography, audio design and writing. Born in Hertfordshire of an English father and Spanish mother. Based in the United Kingdom. @PaulLouisArcher

Vicki McLeod is a freelance writer and photographer. She has lived in Mallorca since 2004. Vicki writes about her beloved island for The Majorca Daily Bulletin, the only daily English language paper in Spain; produces regular columns for the Euro Weekly News, and articles for Spain-Holiday.com. Vicki runs PR strategies for several businesses in Mallorca and London as well as working on her own blogs and projects. She and her husband, Oliver Neilson, supply photo and text content for private clients via @phoenixmediamlr. She tweets at @mcleod_vicki.

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne and based in Barcelona, Alx Phillips writes about contemporary art, dance and theatre in a way that human beings can understand. For more previews, reviews, interviews and extras, check: www.lookingfordrama.com.

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